The result was bitter enmity of the worst kind. One rabbi said, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like one that eats the flesh of swine” (m. Sab. 8.10, quoted in Nolland 594). When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well she was surprised, because “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 9.4).
No Jew traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho would expect help from this cursed person. When he “came where the man was” (v. 32), Jesus’ audience assumed he would finish the job started by the bandits. But no: “he took pity on him.” The Greek says that he was “filled with pity,” the compassion which “causes us so to identify with another’s situation such that we are prepared to act for his or her benefit” (Nolland 594). Perhaps the priest or Levite felt similar pity, but the injured man never knew it. The hurting are not helped by our attitude, only by our actions.
So the Samaritan “went to him,” risking injury to himself. Perhaps the robbers were still in the area. He “bandaged his wounds,” risking religious uncleanness. The Samaritan Pentateuch contained the same regulations regarding defilement from contact with a dead body (Fitzmyer 884). He literally “bound up” his wounds, a technical medical term (Liefeld 544) for wrapping a physical injury (Rienecker 171). He probably had to use his own clothing to make these bandages, as the injured man was stripped naked by the robbers and the Samaritan would have no reason to bring bandages on his journey.
The Samaritan “poured on” (a technical medical term for treating the injury; Bruce 544, Rienecker 171) oil and wine. The oil softened the wound (cf. Isaiah 1.6), while the wine acted as an antiseptic (Nolland 595). This was typical medical treatment; Hippocrates made just such a prescription for ulcers: “Bind with soft wool, and sprinkle with wine and oil” (Robertson 153).
Then he placed the man on his own donkey, exposing himself further to assault by bandits. He brought him to an “inn,” a large place for receiving travelers on this busy road (Bruce 544, Rienecker 171). He “took care of him” personally (v. 34). The next day he gave the innkeeper “two silver coins” (v. 35), two denarii. Food and lodging was 1/32 of a denarius per day; the Samaritan paid for two months’ lodging and care for this man (Lenski 607). And he promised to pay any further debts the man incurred (indicating that the innkeeper knew and trusted him).
Now came the question to which Jesus had been leading his audience all along: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (v. 36). Which of these three “loved his neighbor as himself”? Which did enough to “inherit eternal life”? The lawyer could not bring himself to say that it was a Samaritan (Bruce 544): “The one who had mercy on him” (v. 37).
Now we find Jesus’ twin commandments: “Go and do likewise.” Go—don’t wait for hurting souls to find you. Do—care for them. Prove your faith by your works. Prove you love God by loving your neighbor. Only if you do this perfectly can you “inherit eternal life.”
No one can, of course. Romans 3.20 is plain: “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So on one level Jesus’ famous story serves to discourage us: we cannot do enough to inherit eternal life. We cannot be good neighbor to enough hurting people. We cannot help and care perfectly enough to warrant inclusion in God’s perfect heaven. We must appeal to the grace of the one who helps our hurting souls, for we can never earn his mercy. Eternal life must be given, or it will never be received.
But on another level, Jesus’ story challenges us. Once we have received the grace of God, we must give it. To grow in faith, we must share the faith. We must breathe out to breathe in. We must empty our hands to fill them.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan does not tell us how to enter the Kingdom—it was not meant to. Rather, it tells us how to live once we’re there, when we have received our “adoption as sons” and are now the children of God (Galatians 3.36-39). The parable teaches us how to help people follow Jesus—the purpose for which our church exists. It shows us not how to earn grace, but how to share it. G. Campbell Morgan’s father was right: “The difference between Law and Grace is this: the Law says, ‘Do this, and live.’ Grace says, ‘Live and do this'” (201).
In the Kingdom of God, people come first. Only they will live eternally. Only in serving people do we serve a purpose which is significant. Only by loving our neighbor can we fully love our Father.
Robert McFarlane was President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corp., and an architect of the Iran-Contra plan. When his plan failed, Mr. McFarlane resigned his position and later attempted suicide.
I heard him speak a few years ago at a National Prayer Breakfast. He described the incredible power he had achieved, the ladder to success he had climbed. But then Bud McFarlane told us with tears in his eyes that it was nothing. He got to the top, but there was nothing there. Only after he fell off that ladder did he discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall—that life consists of loving God and loving people. Nothing else.
Have you made this discovery yet? You cannot get to heaven by helping people. But if you are going there, you must help others join you. This is the only proof that we love Jesus: when we love each other (John 13.35). Only when we love our neighbor do we truly love our Lord.
On your road to Jericho today, you’ll meet someone who has been robbed and beaten by life. You’ll have many reasons to pass by on the other side. And only one to stop.